Sunday, July 05, 2015

Decorah Eagle Nest Sightings

7-4-15 ~ News from the field – "Independence"
By David and Ann Lynch
Photo by Lynch Photography
As Darlene and Glenn Miller stated, what a difference a year makes. At this time last year, we were observing eaglets FOUR and INDY at the Decorah Yard Waste Facility, which is over a mile away from the Hatchery and the nest area. In 2015, we have been treated to spectacular weather and the sight of juvenile eagles that are busy learning their eagle lessons in and around the Decorah Fish Hatchery and high in the sky!
The last couple of days have been slow as far as activity from the eagle family, which is great news for the eagles, but bad news for those of us who are trying to watch and photograph. On each of the last two days, all three of the eaglets have been spotted just after dawn near the original N1 nest and Dad Decorah has been observed fishing very early to feed the hungry mouths. However, most of this action is taking place in low light and foggy conditions, so photographs are hard to come by. By mid-morning, the eaglets are being observed in the original N1 Cottonwood Tree and as far as a mile away in and around the farms that surround the hatchery.
The afternoons here in Decorah grow hot and hazy, partly due to the smoke from the massive wildfires occurring in Canada, which keeps eagle activity to a minimum, but the juvenile “screes” can be heard when boredom sets in or hunger begins to call.
Another thing we have noticed this year is the abundance of song birds, which were sadly lacking in 2014. Without the freezing cold, heavy rains and storms we had last year, the smaller birds have flourished (and the gnats have not!). The great number of song birds also includes an explosion in the population of Red-winged Blackbirds, which are not fond of our eagle family. Virtually every raptor in North America are nest predators of Red-winged Blackbirds. Even the small Saw Whet Owl, which is scarcely larger than a Blackbird, has been known to predate on the eggs and nestlings. This has caused the Blackbirds to adapt in several different ways, including nesting over water and nesting in loose, but large colonies. In these colonies, the males can then work together to stave off a predator acting as sentries and by “mobbing” a potential predator. We have seen the Decorah eaglets being “mobbed” almost every time they fly around the hatchery or the trout stream area, and this points to a healthy population of Red-winged Blackbirds that are very busy nesting. The Red-winged Blackbirds are nothing more than a nuisance to the eagles, so there is no need for us to worry about their behavior toward our eagle family! So, next time you see this behavior, remember that the Blackbirds are just doing their best to raise a family, just like our eagle family has done since February!
During the Decorah evenings, the activity level increases as the temperatures drop a bit. We have watched Dad Decorah fishing in both the hatchery retention pond and in the fish runs (where they raise the trout) each evening, making spectacular turns and dives, mere feet above the eagle watchers’ heads! He is a master fisherman. Most nights, Dad has been seen catching 3-5 fish in a matter of minutes, being met by the screes of delight from the eaglets. As the eaglets progress with their flying lessons, they are now seen chasing Dad as he delivers dinner, just as we have seen in other years. We are very happy to not be watching a pile of mulch in 2015!
It’s also been FANtastic to see so many wonderful folks at the Hatchery and around the nest area this year. Another drastic and welcomed change from last year. Everyone has been respectful and so excited to see the Eagle Family. For many, this has been their first visit to Decorah and the Hatchery area to view the eagles. What a spectacular year for their first visit given the perfect weather and expected eaglet behavior. Fans are still traveling from far and wide, but many Decorah “Freshmen” are from Iowa but have not made the trip to Decorah before now. Many of the experienced Decorah Eagle followers have been more than glad to provide “tours” of the area, educating about the eagles, the Decorah area and RRP- a true testament to their devotion and their kind natures and giving hearts. We have truly all reunited as an extended family and it has seemed to do our spirits well.
As a special treat, “Little Bit” (the miniature horse from the farm behind the N1 nest) made an appearance at the hatchery with his owner and family, going out for an evening stroll and ride for the grandkids. We are truly in our version of Utopia sitting on a beautiful lawn with a Bald Eagle sitting over our head in a beautiful maple tree and a gorgeous steel-gray mini-horse walking by with a small child on his back taking its first ride, all with the magnificent fish hatchery in the background bustling with excited children and families.
With today being July 4th, the day that the United States of America gained its independence, we can draw similarities to the newly acquired independence of the Decorah eaglets. The sight of a soaring Bald Eagle in America reminds its citizens of the true freedom we have, as we imagine the freedom that is felt while jumping from the nest, knowing that your body is built for the sky. In 1782, the Bald Eagle was adopted as the symbol on the Great Seal of the United States, and as the national bird AND national animal. On July 4, 1776, the United States gained its independence as a nation, and on July 4, 2015, we watch as the eaglets have signed their own “Declaration of Independence”. The picture shown here is of Decorah Dad (landing) and Mom (perching) in their favorite Maple Tree at the hatchery, and we think it is a great representation of the word “Freedom”.
We wrote this field report for all of you tonight while seated under the Maple Tree pictured here, while the eaglets came and went, and with the parents flying around the nest and hatchery area, thinking of just how lucky we are to be able to witness these scenes, in the heart of America, on our Independence Day.